Clear and present danger
While there were no serious injuries, the accident emphasises the fine line between travelling safely and enduring a life-threatening ordeal. It's an issue that Paolo Carmassi from avionic systems developer Honeywell Aerospace knows well. As president of the company's European, Middle East and African operation, Carmassi is aware of several "sad occurrences" taking place at airports around the globe.
"In today's world, changes and developments at airports have resulted in temporary lack of awareness among the crew in terms of where the aircraft was," he says. "There has been uncertainty over which runway the plane was engaging or taxiing - and in some cases it's led to loss of life following a collision or accident.
It's doubtful risk awareness systems would have prevented the Dubai airport incident, with an aircraft technical problem the likely cause.
But Carmassi insists companies like Honeywell are continuously developing new equipment to help prevent similar accidents. The company produces several products, covering engines and landing systems, avionics, electronics and air conditioning installations.
Elsewhere, Honeywell also manufactures the Runway Awareness and Advisory System (RAAS), which alerts pilots to potential obstacles during taxiing, take-off and landing. It identifies the runway before final approach, provides regular updates on distance to the landing point, and alerts cabin crew to inadvertent take-off attempts. Other features include notifying staff when the plane sits for extended periods, guidance for short runway approaches, and call-outs when a take-off or landing request has been denied.
"The runway system is something you will see more of in the future," Carmassi says. "It's a domino effect. People see the problem, understand it and react, which is what we expect with this. There is a culture of new fleets and nobody can afford for safety to become constrained. There needs to be confidence in the industry as a means of transportation and everybody is looking at this issue.
According to Honeywell, runway incursions account for $1 billion worth of aircraft damages each year. To reduce costs and increase safety, the company developed RAAS. The system already appears popular, with Emirates Airline signing up late last year. During Dubai Airshow 2007, Honeywell announced a deal to install RAAS on the carrier's aircraft for an undisclosed sum.
Installation on Emirates' 110 aircraft, which includes Boeing 777s, Airbus 330s and 340s, will start this year. For Carmassi, the new system will help reduce potential risks. "Honeywell's core value is safety," he says. "What we have announced [at the air show] is a perfect convergence with Emirates. It's noticeable that the airline asked us to co-operate with them to ensure their entire fleet of aircraft is equipped with these systems. It's a very good expression of how seriously Emirates takes its role in aerospace.
Other Middle East carriers are also believed to be interested, although Carmassi is reluctant to reveal names. But regardless of whether or not the system takes off, the Honeywell chief admits human factors will always contribute to aircraft-related incidents. He points to a list compiled by the Federal Aviation Administration as an example of the huge safety risks that airlines and airports regularly encounter.
In recent years, Honeywell and other safety systems developers have helped reduce the risks associated with the top three airport hazards. Disorientation is considered the biggest threat, with pilots prone to flying aircraft into the ground. Others include weather-related incidents and collisions. But while the risks have been reduced, Carmassi says they will never be completely eradicated.
"Will we ever eliminate risk in aviation? When we compare aviation to other industries, it's safer than driving a car but it has a habit of becoming visible when a bad accident happens. We will play a part in reducing the number, but whether it will disappear I don't know.
The threat may always exist, but Carmassi insists Honeywell's directors are determined to increase safety. Aside from RAAS, the company develops traffic collision avoidance and ground proximity systems. The latter is based on a detection programme that alerts pilots to in-flight risks, such as mountains. The difference is the ground-proximity product ensures pilots are aware of potential obstacles before take-off or during final approach.
Honeywell's products extend beyond safety equipment. The company produces propulsion engines for commercial and military planes. It also develops aircraft components and parts for maintenance, repair and overhaul operators, flight service centres and distributors. Elsewhere, Honeywell provides mechanical systems and aircraft temperature control equipment, such as auxiliary power units (APUs). Other Honeywell products commonly found on aircraft include brakes, heating and cabin pressurisation systems and cockpit controls.
According to Carmassi, Honeywell's Middle East operation was established to capitalise on the region's burgeoning aviation industry. Last year, Honeywell forecast a 50% growth in aircraft purchases by 2012. The 16th Business Aviation Outlook also said that airlines and business jet operators across the globe will need 4600 aircraft during the same period.
Other findings show that 25% of all new jet purchases come from Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Carmassi says taking advantage of such growth in the coming years by expanding Honeywell's presence in the region was an obvious strategy. "The Middle East is one of the key areas and the relative size is such that the best is yet to come. It's a relatively contained size and, in terms of growth opportunities, a great deal of my time will be spent focusing in this region, as well as other high-growth territories in India and Eastern Europe, over the next few years.
With several offices throughout the Middle East, Honeywell appears well placed to secure new business. The company has bases in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait. It also operates from several other emirates in the UAE. Meanwhile, clients include the "usual suspects" as Carmassi puts it, such as Qatar Airways, Emirates Airline, Kuwait Airways and Saudi Arabian Airlines.
For Carmassi, working as a pilot before stepping into management provided a solid background in aircraft components. "I am a pilot myself and I can understand how this technology makes the task of flying the plane safely from A to B much more reliable. I am in the sky a lot, but on the backseat instead of in the cockpit. I miss not flying the plane but I know the people doing that are extremely qualified.
The Italian joined the company in 1991, holding several positions before taking on his current role. During that time, Carmassi has seen Honeywell expand across the Middle East, Africa and Europe. "Honeywell has a strong US-centred aerospace culture, so places like this need to be covered," he says.
With the company's Mid-east operation well established, Carmassi and Honeywell's management are now keen to tap into this region's growing aviation industry. "You will see a more focused emphasis on the Middle East. You will see us becoming more domestic in this area and our customers will consider us part of the landscape.
From 2004 to 2006, Carmassi served as vice president/general manager, covering Honeywell's transportation systems division for Asia Pacific. His main duty was to develop the company's product line in the region.
In 1991, Carmassi joined Honeywell as a technical and sales engineer in Milan. Some three years later, he moved to France as a business planning analyst before his promotion to European market development in 1995. Carmassi moved to the UK the following year and served as program manager, commercial diesel, and then sales and marketing director for Europe in 1998.
Other positions include worldwide passenger vehicle product line director in Detroit from 2001 to 2004, and vice president of global strategy. Carmassi also recently held the product management role in Torrance, California.
Italian-born Carmassi holds an aeronautical engineering-propulsion degree from Politechnico in Milan. He, his wife and their four children now live in Switzerland.